More to Vipassana than S.N. Goenka?

Vipassana literal translation is Insight. Yet somewhere along the line I tied Vipassana totally to the practice of S.N. Goenka.

Listening to Gil Fronsdal, I picked up that he was a teacher at the Insight Meditation Centre. From there I re-discovered that insight meditation is Vipassana.

How could two totally different approaches and teachings be the same name? I was nearly exploding at this seemingly double bind I’d created for myself. I e-mailed the IMC asking for some clarification, and got a fantastic reply. In that they clarifying how both S.N. Goenka and Gil Fronsdal have Theravada Buddhism at their core. They then explained how the differences in teaching styles came about from this same tradation.

“Goenka emphasizes the second foundation/application of mindfulness described in the Satipatthana Sutta - which is to focus on mindfulness of “feeling tones” (pleasant, unpleasant, neither) as a path to liberation.

Gil’s teachings encompass a wider range of teachings from the Theravada tradition, employing a variety of approaches to develop mindfulness and other qualities/characteristics that support our development in following the path to liberation, rather than narrowing the focus to one specific technique”

My gut feeling/instict was telling me that Goenka was really locking in on one area, blocking the greater holistic methods upon how to live life through Dharma. The IMC has a great collection of books on the greater Vipassana practice if interested.

13 Responses to “More to Vipassana than S.N. Goenka?”

  1. 1 Dan

    They have excellent audio files on their website too, even a beginners course in meditation.

  2. 2 Joel

    Finding the right meditation for you is an exciting and sometimes challenging process. I would just point out one thing though. In my experience, with any kind of in depth pursuit and study, sharply narrowing one’s focus is a vital and necessary step for deep understanding. Best of luck!

  3. 3 Kris

    I noticed the same thing years ago when I was exploring Vipassana and Insight. I think you are right, a more specific focus vs a holistic focus. There is much to study, no?


  4. 4 Wade

    @Dan, Yes there is a lot of audio around on the IMC Website, I’ve linked to what I think are the best bits in the Recommended Audio section up top.

    @Joel, totally agree. After going wide and shallow for a while, you have to go narrow and deep. I’ve locked onto (Za)Zen as my narrow and deep. Best of luck with your search.

    @Kris, Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s had this dilemma. I hadn’t met anyone else who has reached this crux. I’ve got many friends who practice Vipassana S.N. Goenka style, and it’s great that it ‘work’ for them, not for me tho :) I’d say there is much to live, and be, more so than study. I practice to unlearn the intellectual world, to come back to my full potential of all I can be. Thanks for bring me back.

    May all beings be peaceful.



  5. 5 cindy

    Hello Wade, I found your website while searching for Goenka meditation chants… thanks so much for providing the mp3s. I hope my small dana will increase your overall total and allow you to continue to support those on the path of liberation. I love your website, bytheway, and appreciate your discussion of Goenka’s Vipassana vs that of IMC. You are now in my “favorites” and will check back frequently.

    peace, happiness and liberation,

  6. 6 walkthepath

    I think the beauty of Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka is the focus on practice. You are given the tools, both practical and the necessary theory, which are needed to live a life of dhamma. By your own daily practice you can then find many answers within yourself. You see the reality as it is, at the actual, experiential level. And so gradually you change. Life becomes clearer, happier and more peaceful.

    I have meditated in this tradition at least 2 hours per day for about four months and I have the most wonderful benefits. I am blown away by it!

    Some people can sit daily after their first 10-day course. Some need more courses, several courses. I started sitting daily after my second 10-day course. The point is one has to be determined. I have pushed through this first obstacle of maintaining daily practice and now there is much benefit.

    Visit my blog for more information on my practice:

    May all beings be happy!!

  7. 7 Reachtheshore

    In my opinion having a strong and sharp mind is the basis of any other meditation, doesn’t matter Buddhist or non Buddhist, or holistic approach or any other approach.

    I believe this apporach by S.N. Goenka is more practice than theory and the more you practice the more it becomes clear.

    After doing Vipassana meditation by S.N. Goenka I am now more aware and more open hence I get more insight in any new meditation I look into.

    Also one should try and find whichever meditation or technique works best for them as everyone is different.

  8. 8 Patrick Pham

    In the Path of Purification, forty meditation techniques are mentioned. We just have to find one that fit our need. However all techniques aim at Calm and Insight.

    Just sit and be happy

    With Metta

  9. 9 kidnovice

    I am a fan of S.N. Goenka’s meditation centers, and his distinctive form of vipassana (emphasizing awareness of bodily sensations). In fact, I’d pretty much say that this is the practice to which I have devoted myself.

    However, like you, I think it is incredibly helpful to be aware of the beautiful diversity in vipassana practices. Theravada is incredibly vast. I’ve been toying with an inclusive definition, and I’d like to throw it out there.

    So here goes… All forms of vipassana, from Goenka to Fronsdal, seem to do two things:
    (1)Thoroughly examine the field of consciousness;
    (2) Be aware of the suffering, impermanence, and insubstantiality of what you are observing.

    All the traditions seem to subscribe to that, but then differ (alot) in terms of what they emphasize, and how they suggest we achieve those two aspects. I’d love to hear other ideas on this topic.

    Anyway, here is a great link to all of Gil Fronsdal’s talks, but be warned. It’s addictive(!):

    Thanks for the nutritious food for thought!

  10. 10 Madhava

    After being on (and off) this path for over thirty years i came to S.N. Goenka’s style of vipassana teaching just two years ago. The main thing that struck me about was the simplicity and the purity.No frills, no distractions,no additions,and especially, no dilutions. Just a simple straight-forward technique that can take you as far and as vast and as deep as you are willing to go (unless of course you are longing for distractions). Also, maybe i have not done enough research,but how many other teachers are giving the opportunity to consolidate the technique in a 9 day silent retreat for which no renumeration is required, not even for food and lodging.

  11. 11 Ganesh Prasad Upadhyay

    Vipassana is the only way which can free anyone from all miseries. Vipassana has no colour…no caste prejudices… an universal open to all meditation technique… anyone from any sect can practice it…i practice yoga - pranayama very regularly…but vipassana taught by sri S.N. Goenkaji is unique.

  12. 12 DY

    The Vipassana propagated by Goenka is grossly misrepresented as a standalone tool taught by Buddha. An important element, faith, for instance, is stripped off the entirety of Buddhism (he is against “-ism” because the word “religion” was not found in the sutta, while conveniently forgetting that his method isn’t found in the sutta either — oh, but wait, the same standard doesn’t apply to him because his esoteric lineage is not recorded anywhere — huh??). He picks and chooses Buddha’s words to support his views (everything boils down to “vibration-only” — you have the read the whole sutta to realize his blatant disregard of intellectual integrity — oh, but wait, he is the only one who can weed out the impurities) while branding contradictory teachings as “intellectual pollution”. He claims to learn from the Buddha, yet he casually alters Buddha’s words as he sees fit: why not shuffle the sequence of the Noble Eightfold Path a little so that it suits “my” theory on the “scientific” vipassana? No harm done, right? Or, so he thought. Did he just use the word scientific? Oh, of course, everybody else’ definition of science is an intellectual pollution.

    By the way, I’m a biochemistry major, so I did learn a little bit about what makes science, science. I’ve also been a part-time teacher of non-sectarian Buddhist Philosophy for 16 years.

    I’ve nothing against Goenka personally. I don’t know him. I have no reason to doubt his good intentions. I’m not blind to the fact that his program did bring about much benefit to a lot of people. However, I’m not blind either, to the fact that he has at the same time caused a lot of misunderstanding of Buddha’s teachings.

    I hope his followers, especially Buddhists (since it’s a non-issue to non-buddhists), would be more critical of his teachings.

  13. 13 Anurag

    Shraddha or faith is a necessary precondition for any kind of meditation and the same has been emphasized by Goenkaji in his talks. But by branding Buddha’s teachings as buddhism(like organised religion or sect where the only criteria required is faith) is to do a great disservice to not only Buddha Himself but also to the vast multitude of people who can take advantage of His teachings while still remaining faithful to their traditional religion.

    DY mentions that Goenkaji’s technique is not mentioned in the sutta. Could not have been further from the truth. In Maha Satipathanna sutta, it is clearly mentioned the importance of vedana and its observation which is the technique taught by Goenkaji.

    It seems the teachings of Buddha have not penetrated DY’s psyche or else he would not have launched such a tirade against Goenkaji. It is truly said that only practice will liberate a person.

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